In praise of examined lives

C2C Journal Spring 2015 Cover-Final

The unexamined life is not worth living.”

 – Socrates

Whenever I meet a new or aspiring politician – and I meet a few of them as a journalist and speechwriter – one of the first questions I ask is, “Why are you running?” Many of them, I’m sorry to say, don’t appear to have given it much thought. Usually they get around to saying something about a “desire to serve,” and “to make our [city/province/country] a better place.” These are great – and hopefully sincere – motives, but they don’t really tell me enough to decide whether they’re worth voting or working for.

The ones who really stand out as having thought about their political convictions are the storytellers. They describe momentous events in their lives, books or people who influenced them, and other transformative experiences which shaped their beliefs and inspired them to set their careers and families aside and start knocking on strangers’ doors, begging for money, giving speeches euthanized by party hacks, taking cheap shots from Internet trolls, and suffering all the other indignities that politicians endure.

The elementary idea that democracy is best served by people who believe in something is the inspiration for this edition of C2C Journal. When we put out the call for submissions a couple months ago it prompted a huge response. That should be no surprise, someone sarcastically observed, when you ask writers to write about themselves. What we got, however, was not a riot of narcissism, but a collection of thoughtful, honest, humble and interesting biographies that mirror the journeys we all take to political conviction and engagement.

As well as being posted online at C2CJournal.ca, this special, expanded edition of C2C will be distributed to each of the 1,000-odd delegates attending the annual Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa March 5-7. Several of the writers will be joining me at a session where everyone will be encouraged to tell a story about “How I Got Here.” Since the conference is populated by political activists, journalists and academics from across Canada, it promises to be a lively, stimulating discussion. If you’re a delegate, we hope you’ll stop by our session on Saturday morning and join in.

Included among the contributors is Rainer Knopff, the political scientist and member of the “Calgary School” of conservative academics. His story is a delight to read, a tale of love and Plato, of philosophical evolution from left to right, and of providential happenstances that determined his destiny. Also at the Conference will be former federal Conservative cabinet minister Monte Solberg, whose essay in this edition evinces his gift for humour and reveals how his father, a can of Gold Water beer, and William F. Buckley, rescued him from Saskatchewan socialism at a very young age.

Ottawa journalist Brigitte Pellerin will share her story about her journey from political activism to political ennui, a sad tale of disenchantment with our contemporary democratic choices. More hopeful, at least for conservatives, will be lawyer Paul Beaudry’s countercultural narrative about a lonely right-wing francophone flourishing in a sea of Quebec leftism.

Not on hand, regrettably (but perhaps understandably), will be lawyer and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien advisor Warren Kinsella, whose provocative essay in this edition answers the vexing question about how someone from Calgary can become a Liberal.

Other contributors to this edition include Bernd Schmidt, whose political beliefs were forged in the ruins of post-war Germany and the revolutionary cauldron of the Sixties; Jeremy Cherlet, a Millennial whose political consciousness begins with 9-11 and lies entirely within the Internet age; Elizabeth Nickson, whose political biography is a breathtaking romp through New York, London, South Africa, and 400 years of North American colonial history; and Colby Cosh, the Maclean’s columnist whose story about getting bitten by the libertarian bug at a young age also illuminates why he has become such a uniquely interesting voice in Canadian journalism.

If there’s a constant running through these narratives it is the profound influence of literature on political evolution. With that in mind, as well as the Manning Foundation’s mandate to stimulate more a greater political engagement among Canadians, we invite readers to pass on this edition of C2C to others – especially young people – in hope that some of these stories will ignite their interest and involvement in the political process. With any luck, some of them will go on to become politicians who know why they’re running.

~

Paul Bunner is editor of C2C Journal.  His political journal ranged from writing press releases for peace group at 25 to writing speeches for a Conservative prime minister at 50.

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